I'm Riding a Bike for the First Time in Years and I Need Tips So I Don't Run Over People

I have nightmares about damaging an entire town's shins.
Publish date:
October 22, 2016
anxiety, japan, bicycles, accident prone, Live Abroad

For the first time since I was 10, a bicycle is my primary means of transportation.

Mr. Louise and I got used bikes to get around Yamaguchi because it takes too long to walk to the grocery store, and the train only runs sometimes. While at first the romance of breezily biking on roads bordered by fields and through quaint neighborhoods dotted with shrines was appealing and made me feel like I should have a baguette in my bike's basket at all times (Japan...France...romance...right?), the reality has been that I'm a 35-year-old woman who cannot properly ride a bike.

OK, that's not entirely true. I can ride long as nobody is within a five-foot radius of me, I only have to go in a straight line, and I don't move my head.

These are all things that aren't really convenient biking rules in Yamaguchi. I suppose they're not really convenient biking rules anywhere.

Yamaguchi is a town of cyclists. While lots of people have cars, an equal amount of the population bikes; to work, to school, to the store at the same time as me. So what happens is while I'm riding my bike on the sidewalk (where cyclists are supposed to be here), there's no doubt that I will encounter other humans on bikes. Or humans on foot. Or humans standing on the sidewalk smoking cigarettes and not moving while I'm wobbling all over the place trying to pass them but they expect me to be a skilled Japanese bike rider so they don't move until it's too late and I have to stop, get off, and walk my bike past them as they stare and wonder what the hell is wrong with me.

I am not a confident cyclist. All of the above makes me clench up, therefore making me unconsciously shift my weight. Then the wobbling begins. Having to navigate around pedestrians or other cyclists — with only inches to spare — is my new favorite source of anxiety. Turning corners is a close second.

I have nightmares about damaging an entire town's shins.

Not to mention that EVERYBODY here rides a bike like the damn thing grew out of them. They read books while biking and effortlessly navigating through a pack of senior citizens with canes. So I'm extra self-conscious riding around Yamaguchi. I know I look like a character out of an old silent film — the one where the guy on the bicycle zigzags into a hay bale or burning building while wacky organ music plays.

I see alarm and confusion on people's faces when they see me coming toward them on my bike. This is not the usual type of alarm and confusion I provoke in Japanese people – this one is tinged with fear. For their shins.

I did not expect this. I know how to ride a bike! Riding my bike used to be thoughtless, so easy for me as a kid. I went bike riding with Mr. Louise when we were on vacation a few years ago, and I did fine! (Granted we were the lone cyclists on a wide, beachy bike trail. Only gentle, gradual turns; no roving packs of cane-using senior citizens.)

There's a whole SAYING about how things are "like riding a bike"! What's wrong with me?

I've been told I'm not in "biking shape." My legs aren't strong enough, my body isn't tuned to keep me totally balanced. I guess that's why I shake and wobble and feel so out of control.

Maybe I'm just overthinking this.

But I'm sure there are some seasoned cyclists out there who can offer some advice. Help? Tell me what to do? Give me some tips?

And if nothing else, tell me some of your bicycling horror stories. That way the next time I fall, I can think of you and bask in the glow of our klutzy camaraderie.

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